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Closer to Guns: the Role of Street Gangs in Facilitating Access to Illegal Firearms

Abstract

Criminal offenders often turn to social networks to gain access to firearms, yet we know little about how networks facilitate access to firearms. This study conducts a network analysis of a co-offending network for the City of Chicago to determine how close any offender may be to a firearm. We use arrest data to recreate the co-offending network of all individuals who were arrested with at least one other person over an eight-year period. We then use data on guns recovered by the police to measure potential network pathways of any individual to known firearms. We test the hypothesis that gangs facilitate access to firearms and the extent to which such access relates to gunshot injury among gang members. Findings reveal that gang membership reduces the potential network distance (how close someone is) to known firearms by 20% or more, and regression results indicate that the closer gang members are to guns, the greater their risk of gunshot victimization.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank our fellow collaborators on the Multi-City Underground Gun Market Study and the University of Chicago Crime Lab for their comments and support of this project. Parts of this research were funded by grants to the corresponding author including a CAREER award (SES-1151449) from the Sociology, and Law and Social Science Programs at the National Science Foundation. This research was also supported in part by the facilities and staff of the Yale University Faculty of Arts and Sciences High Performance Computing Center, and a James S. McDonnell Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in Studying Complex Systems awarded to the first author. The findings of this article represent the opinions of the authors and not those of the City of Chicago or the Chicago Police Department.

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Correspondence to Andrew V. Papachristos.

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All data and protocols for this project were approved by appropriate IRB.

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Roberto, E., Braga, A.A. & Papachristos, A.V. Closer to Guns: the Role of Street Gangs in Facilitating Access to Illegal Firearms. J Urban Health 95, 372–382 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11524-018-0259-1

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Keywords

  • Street gangs
  • Social networks
  • Gun markets
  • Guns
  • Gun injuries